BOOKS/Alvena Bieri

Interesting Visits in History

Looking at the vast subject of American history can stimulate much creative imagination. For I Wish I’d Been There [Doubleday, 2006] Byron Hollinshead asked 20 American historians this provocative question: “What is the scene or incident in American history that you would like to have witnessed and why?” Their replies ranged all the way from being at the Salem witch trials to John Brown’s raid on Harper’s Ferry in Civil War times to the Scopes “monkey trial” in Tennessee to FDR’s last days in the White House to Martin Luther King’s marches.

One of these stood out for me as extremely timely for us. is Bernard Weisberger’s choice, “La Follette Speaks Against the War — 19l7.” This historian taught at the University of Chicago and has helped Bill Moyers and Ken Burns on several TV documentaries. He wrote wrote The La Follettes of Wisconsin, about them and the whole Progressive Era in that state. The introductory comment is that “there was a time when a presidential decision to go to war required congressional approval following debate with no restrictions applied.” Times have obviously changed.

The description of what went on in in the US Senate starting on April 4, 1917, is vivid. Throngs of war supporters and anti-war protesters surrounded the Capitol. President Wilson’s speech in favor of the war was interrupted many times by applause from the pro-war senators, the only strong dissenter being Bob La Follette. His speech lasted for three hours as he dissected and came out against all the president’s arguments for war with Germany. His point was that the United States had nothing to do with the causes of the war and should stay out of it.

I was about halfway through this book when I started making a little list of my own of places and events I wish I could have seen. Some of them were national, some closer to home here in Oklahoma.

But wouldn’t it have been fun to be a witness at the signing of the Declaration of Independence? Now that would have been something to tell your grandchildren. Come to think of it, visiting Jefferson’s home at Monticello when he was busy inventing things, writing and looking through his yard telescope over to the campus at the University of Virginia would have been great fun too.

In this area I would like to have run in to Washington Irving as he “toured the prairie,” or many, many years before that the Spanish explorer Coronado as he roamed around western Oklahoma in search of gold

And how about seeing that April 22, 1889, land run that opened this part of the state to settlement? A momentous day, to say the least. A few years later came the land drawing of 1901. By then the government had decided some of the land runs were a little too wild and that a regulated lottery was a better idea. The drawings were held in Lawton and El Reno. My grandparents lived in Okarche, and their oldest son drew a farm near Hobart. A little later my grandparents were able to buy a farm near there, and soon the whole family moved.

This was a good idea for a book, a little step toward making history even more exciting.

Contact Alvena Bieri, 2023 W. 11th Ave, Stillwater OK 74074 or email

From The Progressive Populist, December 15, 2007

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